Fans of a feather flock to Randolph Beer in DUMBO.
Anyone mad about missing out on the pickleball trend can turn to this new, obscure pastime: feather bowling.
While few have heard of this niche sport before, let alone played it, it is actually a classic in Rust Belt taverns where the strange game has been played for generations.
Randolph Beer owner Dave Plate first learned about the very old sport, which is said to have originated in Belgium watch a YouTube video and thought it was just right for his customers.
“We were fully committed to it,” Plate told The Post of his decision to introduce the competition to New Yorkers.
Randolph’s assistant manager and de facto spring bowling commissioner Sarah Duval described the bar as “a combination of curling, shuffleboard, bocce ball and bowling.” The bar’s decision to try something different clearly paid off.
Now, according to Plate, the bar’s feather bowling courts are fully booked almost every weekend, priced at $25 for a half hour and $50 for an hour.
The aim of the game is relatively simple. A team of two throws their five-pound wooden rolling devices – called pucks – down a long, curved alley towards a spring anchored in the ground.
The goal is to get as close to the base of the upright feather as possible. You’ll get the best results with careful throws – too much momentum behind your puck and your chances of winning will literally end up in the gutter behind the pen.
As in bocce, the feather thrower closest to the ball scores a point and additional points can also be scored in each round. Long story short, the game then becomes a test of precision, with the first team to reach 10 points being declared the winner – sometimes after bartenders or neutral parties are asked to intervene and see who comes closer to the pen . (No extra points for actually touching the thing.)
Who invented feather bowling?
“Legend has it that many, many years ago, farmers were bored in the fields of Belgium,” Plate, who opened his pub and games room in May 2022, told The Post. “So they grabbed wheels of cheese and threw them across the fields towards pigeon feathers – and played a game to see who could get closest to the feather.”
The game remains extremely unknown – not only in the United States, but also in its supposed homeland. In fact, only one bar in Detroit, where so many Belgians settled years ago that they even had their own neighborhood bar, has kept the flame alive in the fifty states.
It was five years ago, when Plate Watched YouTube footage for the first time of the game played in the vintage lanes at the Motor City’s Cadieux Café.
“We have to have this in New York,” he remembers thinking at the time.
There is no standard version of feather bowling, Plate said, leaving it up to him to get creative with pitch design while trying to stay true to the game as he observed it in Detroit. Installing two seats 65 feet long and about 9 feet wide cost the bar nearly $60,000.
Plate also had a special outdoor turf installed as a playing field surface, had pucks specially set up and repurposed bath mats used as padding for the backstops.
He even installed overhead cameras and televisions so teams could see in real time exactly where their puck landed on the other side.
“These dishes are about 70% DIY, you can’t get the stuff prepackaged on Amazon,” the owner joked.
Freshmen Leah DeVito, 24, and Olivia Miller, 24, had fun beating two friends at the game on a Thursday night.
“It was fun, but we weren’t very good at it,” admitted Miller, remaining optimistic that she would improve her technique over time.
Could Feather Bowling Be the Next Pickleball?
“I could see it, [especially] when done in a bar environment,” Miller added.
The post office comes into play
Plate said there’s usually a learning curve, requiring three or four tries to get into the groove – but I got the hang of it shortly after a single practice session.
After all, you can’t teach instinct.
What I learned right away: Careful underhand casts are key. The gutter doesn’t seem to matter for at least 62 of the 65 feet – just before a huge thud is heard against the bathmat’s backstop.
Throwing it at about 60% of the speed at which you would throw a bowling ball was the most efficient way to curl the feather.
It’s best to feel the puck rolling gently off your fingers as this is most important for controlling speed and guiding movement across the turf.
There are also advantages and disadvantages to which team comes first or second.
The team at the top of the inning not only has the advantage of being the first to roll close to the pen, but also gets the chance to “barricade” that close shot by clogging the main court with other pucks.
The second team eliminated will benefit from breaking down the proverbial walls of Jericho.
With the right amount of skill and momentum, you can send the other team’s pucks into the gutter, where they are now out of play.
The alternative approach of getting around your team’s defense by using the sloping sides of the pitch really comes into play.
Although it’s not easy for beginners, the true beauty of the game is rolling up the incline and creating a precise trajectory to move from side to side through an opponent’s barricade.
Your buddies will definitely buy you a round if you get it right.